Helling Speaks at Pharmacy Commencement
June 1, 2005

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Dennis Keith Helling, the executive director of pharmacy operations and therapeutics for Kaiser Permanente, was the commencement speaker for the Southern School of Pharmacy. The commencement took place on May 7, at the Sheffield Student Center on Atlanta's Cecil B. Day Campus. Below is Helling's commencement address:
 
President Godsey, Executive Vice President Fleming, Dean Matthews, Distinguished Platform party, and Graduates of the Class of 2005.  Thank you for this pristine honor to be with you today.
 
To the Graduates - Today is about excellence; your excellence, your achievements.  Today is your day.  We are here to celebrate your hard work.  But along your journey you were supported and loved by family and friends, so be sure to give them a big hug and let them know of your gratitude.  My message today is threefold: congratulations, challenges and commitment.
 
First, Congratulations!
 
You are graduating from one of the top Schools of Pharmacy in the United States.  Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy is a jewel, steeped in rich tradition, pride, and reputation.  Your Dean, Dr. Ted Matthews, is among the elite leaders of Pharmacy.  I have worked with him nationally.  He is highly respected.  He continues to inspire me! Make no doubt about it, Dean Matthews is passionate with pride about you, his students, faculty, and Mercer University. 
 
Graduates who have preceded you are successful and making a difference in the lives of their patients.
 
Are you prepared to make a difference?    Are you prepared to make a difference in the clinical outcomes of your patients and in advancing the pharmacy profession?  Are you prepared to make a difference in your community and in the lives of those less fortunate? 
 
You have received a comprehensive and rigorous education from faculty who are individually and collectively among the best in all of Pharmacy.  You, like the rest of us in the profession, are privileged to be called "Pharmacists".  Our profession has always had the highest public respect for trust, honesty and ethics. 
 
So as you enter our ranks as fellow pharmacists, you also will have a covenant with society, a covenant with your patients.  This convenantal relationship is the basis for pharmaceutical care, no matter where you work or where your profession takes you.  As pharmacists we deliver care to our sick patients.  When they feel their worst, we bring them the hope of healing.  As I said before, we are proud to be pharmacists!  We take great pride about the nobleness of our pharmacy profession, the healing powers of medicine and the comforting smile and kindness that we give our patients.   
 
You are indeed blessed to be here.  You were among over 1,000 qualified applicants to reach these 135 seats today.  You are not your father's pharmacist!  You have been educated at the highest level in the history of our profession.  Never doubt that you can change the pharmacy profession.  You have an obligation to do so.  So are you academically prepared to impact patient care?  Without a doubt!  What will differentiate you will be your zealous passion for the profession, the leadership you bring to the community in which you live, and the compassionate caring you give to each of your patients. 
 
So now is SHOW TIME!  A time for you to be successful in the profession.  Contrary to what you may be feeling, your success in the workplace will not be measured by your past academic grades or your class rank.  In my experience, your success in the workplace will be measured by your personal attributes.  There are three which are key to your success.
 
The first is that of Interpersonal Communication Skills.  Co-workers, physicians, nurses and patients expect and take for granted that you are smart, intellectually competent and technically efficient.  They will judge your professional competence and the quality of your care based on your interpersonal skills.  They will form their initial opinion about you based on your friendliness and effective communication skills; so smile and be friendly with your patients and co-workers.  Project a warm and caring attitude.  Your patients expect nothing less and you will receive much more in return.
 
The second ingredient for success is Flexibility.  Look for opportunities to expand your role, to improve your skills, to better yourself.  Take professional risks.  Let go of the dispensing tasks by utilizing technicians and automation for order fulfillment.  But never ever let go of our precious patient care role.  There is no more important role for pharmacists than to help patients understand how to take their medications safely.  When we dispense an inhaler or start a patient on insulin, we must take responsibility for ensuring that the patient knows-without question what to do. 
 
Be hungry for new knowledge and then make sure that you put those new skills into practice.  Be ever vigilant because drug therapies will change dramatically in your career. 
Some of you may even want to continue your formal education with residencies, fellowships, MS or Ph.D. degrees.  But all of you must, must continue life-long learning.  If you are to be a pharmacist, you have no option.
 
I ask you to commit to acquiring the necessary skills, certifications, and credentials to make a difference in the care of your patients.
 
The final key for success is that of Teamwork.  You will be viewed with respect if you reach out to co-workers, nurses and physicians and excel at being part of the patient care team, always working toward the common vision of providing the best personalized care for our patients. 
I challenge you to live these three principles and apply them beyond the work environment, to your families, and your communities.
 
In summary, welcome to our highly respected profession.  The pharmacist's role is changing from making medications to making medications work.  Don't get comfortable!  Embrace changes as opportunities for you, because our role as Pharmacotherapy specialists will be evolving at a blistering pace.  Honor the precious covenant we have with our patients.  Remember the ingredients for personal success: interpersonal communication skills, flexibility and teamwork. 
 
When patients are asked, what you their pharmacist does, we need to hear them say, "My pharmacist helps me manage my medications". 
 
Our patients and the public expect pharmacists to ensure safe medications and safe use of medications.  This responsibility is great and is best stated by Dr. Berwick of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.  "The names of patients whose lives we save can never be known.  Our contribution will be what did not happen to them.  And, though they are unknown, we will know that mothers and fathers are at graduations and weddings they would have missed, and that grandchildren will know grandparents they might never have known, and holidays will be taken, and work completed, and books read, and symphonies heard, and gardens tended that, without our work, would never have been." 
 
It has been my honor to share this day with you.  I wish you and your loved ones abundance, blessings, and the fulfillment of your dreams.  Thank you. 
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